Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, Local 2279
The Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, (LRCFT) Local 2279, AFT, AFL/CIO began in a way similar to that of most other AFT locals in California: a few teachers, unhappy because of the lack of leadership from the local NEA affiliate, decided to form a real teachers’ union. A petition bearing some 45 signatures-all from the American River College (ARC) campus of the District was filed with AFT and on April 1, 1972, the new local was chartered, its official name having been suggested by Raoul Teilhet, then president of the California Federation of Teachers.
Until the following September the local operated under the acting presidency of Les Lehr, ARC music department. Three one-year terms followed, bringing into the office Byron Patterson, David Gamst and Bob Dasch, all of ARC. These were the “pre-collective bargaining” years, during which the new local laid its foundation. The local took on grievances, spoke out at Board of Trustee meetings, published a newsletter, and sent delegates to Central Labor Council meetings. The local acquired a reputation for being aggressively and unabashedly pro-teacher. Membership increased and spread to the other campuses of the District.
In 1975 Paul Oehler, the first president from Sacramento City College, was elected, and the local established two-year terms for the presidency. This year the legislature approved collective bargaining for teachers. For the next two years, before the new law was actually implemented, LRCFT leaders prepared diligently for the election battle.
New president Ken Humphreys (SCC) had the honor in 1977 of leading the underdog union into the long awaited, first-ever collective bargaining election. Assisted greatly by AFT organizer Kelli Gardiner, LRCFT won the election, but only after a run-off. In the initial election on October 5, 1977, LRCFT garnered 514 votes to 494 for the opposition, with 62 voting “no rep.” In the run-off six weeks later, LRCFT increased its take to 601 with only 509 going to the other side. Then, with the help of AFT bargaining expert, Vinnie Russell, the local signed its first three-year contract with the District.
Scarcely was the ink dry when, during the joint presidency of Don McHugh (SCC) and Gary Strauss (SCC), LRCFT had to face another challenge: a decertification attempt by the Association. By this time, however, the Federation’s reputation had been so solidly established that it beat back the decertification attempt by a margin of 542 to 445 with only 36 “no rep” votes. More teachers joined.
Sue Noland (ARC, 1981-1983) and Jonathan Brosin (SCC, 1983-1985) followed as local presidents during which time the local continued to grow and to become more sophisticated in the art of negotiations, grievances, communications, and in teacher representation generally, including the organizing of a full scale demonstration on the steps of the state capitol on the matter of funding for the community colleges. In 1984, rumblings from the CTA did not materialize into a full-blown challenge because the opposition was unable to gather enough signatures to force an election.
Pat Kirklin, (SCC, 1985-1987) the local’s chief negotiator for some years previously, had to solve a severe financial deficit in addition to the normal union problems such as the restructuring of the executive board. This was further complicated by the departure of the local’s executive secretary, Larkie Gildersleeve. Without the funds to hire a new executive secretary, Kirklin took on the job himself along with the responsibilities of the presidency.
When the local’s finances improved enough to hire a new staff person, it was decided that the size of the local and the complexity of the job would require upgrading the position. After a careful search and hours of interviewing, Sheryl Pettitt was hired as the local’s first executive director.
LRCFT was becoming a full-service local. The grievance system was further refined under the direction of Ken Lynch, who was able to resolve most grievances at the campus or district levels.
But quiet times were not to last. Contract negotiations stalled and, for the first time in the history of the district, faculty action had to go beyond the bargaining table. A Job Action committee to deal with the situation was formed with Bill Mahan appointed chairman. The local and the faculty senates agreed to boycott committee meetings. Faculty members picketed all three campuses and the district office. Finally a vote of no confidence was taken against the chancellor. Before the election results were announced, the district reconsidered the main issues and agreement was reached. The contract contained a pay increase provision that provided for increases to be based directly on incoming state funds as they were received. Affectionately termed the “trombone clause,” salary adjustments were made four times in the first year.
In the final months of Kirklin’s presidency, Richard Hemann was hired as executive director.
In 1987 Mike Crowley became the first president to be elected from Consumnes River College. The CTA called for a decertification election that spring. This time they had been able to get enough valid signatures by canvassing the part-timers. Crowley and Hemann were assisted by Tom Martin, Larry Bordan, Julie Minard and others from the CFT staff in trouncing the CTA forces 632 to 313. A new contract was then negotiated under the direction of co-chairs Pat Kirklin and Ken Lynch. The LRCFT “trombone clause” continued in the new agreement, and by the end of 1988, with the contract in effect for eighteen months, faculty pay gains had averaged nearly one percent per month.
In January of 1989 Crowley became the first president to serve a second term. As Local 2279 heads into another negotiations period, the 18-year-old local has definitely come of age and continues to exert leadership in state and local teacher affairs.
(Byron Patterson, contributor)